Tekriwal: Cancel color-blindness


Tanisha Tekriwal, Assistant Opinion Editor

The beautiful thing about cancel culture is that one color-blind tweet from a respectable person can suddenly put all of society into perspective. This is because these situations help expose the farce of our progression for the truly half-hearted effort made on the part of humanity. Specifically, on the part of the white male (often American) consciousness.
Stephen King is the latest to be canceled for his insensitive tweets on the 14th of January: “For me, the diversity issue — as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway — did not come up. That said I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”
Of course the issue of diversity did not come up for King. He is a heterosexual white man. King, formerly honorable in my eyes, is now championing tropes of the white conservative who never cared about diversity in the first place, and the white liberal who cares only about token diversity. Diversity is digestible and acceptable as long as it stays to one per category, preferably the ones that don’t get as much traction and completely outside the Directorial or Best Picture scene.
The debate on diversity at awards shows is not new — and has the same implications as parallel ideas such as affirmative action — but the debate on diversity in cinema itself is older than even that. Stephen King, I believe represents the category of people unaware of the fact that people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other underrepresented minorities are not afforded the same resources and opportunities than their conventional counterparts are.
There aren’t even as many roles for these people, and when these roles are created, they are often never offered to them. Remember the time Scarlett Johansson thought she should be allowed to play any role, tree or animal? Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.
The running cliche of the white protagonist and black sidekick — who faces tragedy by the end of the movie should it come to that — divulges the other foolish argument that conservatives bring forth: That is what audiences want to see. Which audiences were you even thinking of again? The white? Reaffirming stereotypes and only showing people what they expect is a subversion of the point of art, which is to not appease, but defeat its audiences, to challenge them.
Another very disturbing trope revealed by King’s remark, and the horrifying 60,000+ likes that have validated it, is his separation of diversity and quality. Diversity does not mean the absence or reduction of quality. White people will not be doing Bong Joon-ho any favours by watching his mind-bending film “Parasite”: art from non-white sources does not need the validation of the “default.” The only favours here are the ones you are performing to yourself by breaking away from a boxed narrative.
Twitter handle @BlackWomenViews succinctly framed this toxicity in the following words: “Notice how quality is framed as innately the opposite of diversity (whiteness)? Diversity is not deficiency and it is not charity. Stephen King is a perfect example of why these award shows are so white.”
And if King cannot find quality that is diverse, it is not because non-white, non-male people have nothing to contribute to the film scene, it is because they have — as he conceded in a follow-up tweet to redeem himself — been nearly “shut out of the game.” It is exactly the same reason we need affirmative action: because black communities people typically do not have access to the same resources that their white counterparts do and are thus structurally and fundamentally disadvantaged. Diversity is a conscious and political choice, it can only occur naturally when we live in an impartial world, and since we don’t, we must make active efforts to level the playing field.
And who made Stephen King — the embodiment of a narrow demographic —the judge of what is diverse anyway? Was it the 68 percent male and 84 percent white other voters of the Academy? We cannot expect an Academy that isn’t diverse to even attempt to understand diversity. Perhaps they’re unaware, but a few female nominations once in five years doesn’t cut it.
The exclusion of Parasite actors from the Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories is resounding too. The thing is, I doubt many of the voters for the Oscars or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group determining the Golden Globes, are as acquainted with “foreign films” as they ought to be. When you don’t have people who understand the cultural contexts that often set the important backdrops for some international films, how can we even expect them to appreciate it? This extends not merely to the movie’s language — though that too is a consideration.
Joon-ho’s clever comment, made while accepting his award for Best Director at the Golden Globes: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” While this is quite apt, I believe that sometimes just watching a film with no knowledge of the circumstances it arises out of and addresses is not enough.
Growing up in India, I have watched in equal part Hollywood and Bollywood films. In fact, I would say I’m better versed in the world of the former than the latter. This is the bequest of both colonialism and the growth of the Anglophone realm. Globalisation has not, however, helped a reverse absorption of other cultures. For the most widely-viewed film industry in the world, Bollywood had not managed to penetrate the Western hemisphere as natural progression and globalisation dictated. Why? Simply because people are not as open to ideas that might not fit their preconceived nations of the world. Who’d want to watch the serious and nostalgic or dark noir that also comes out of Mumbai’s studios when it is easier to picture all those South Asian productions as a flurry of well-dressed people dancing and singing?
Stephen King — as unfamiliar as he seems to be with other cultures — does not even know how to recognise quality in them. He may appreciate it from afar, but this break in cultural interpretation calls for a diversity of the board and voters too.
The Oscars’ “Foreign-Language Film” category will thankfully be released from its archaic nomenclature and renamed as “Best International Feature Film” 2020 onwards. However, this introduces another paradox: that “foreign” is defined not by the sensible “non-American” but by a colonially-reminiscent “non-English.” This creates an othering of the non-Anglophone world, whitewashing the diverse identities in the United States with the English-speaking, settler-descendent idea of “American,” and thus whole populations, pushing them to the periphery. “The Farewell” being nominated for “Foreign Film” at the Golden Globes presents a disturbing idea: the story of an Asian American immigrant is still not American enough. (Or is the verdict not white enough?)
So Stephen King, I know you tried to make up with some lukewarm excuses after that disastrous tweet, but you’re canceled.

Tanisha Tekriwal is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.